Ghana’s economy is traditionally structured to fail, and that is exactly what we may be witnessing these days.
In the first place, the economy depends for its survival on the production of commodities which we cannot process to consume ourselves. Our economy is an agrarian or collector’s one….One that could best be described as hewers of wood and drawers of water economy which tracks its origin in the times of colonialism and primitive civilizations.
For example, cocoa which we gleefully produce and export in huge quantities, is at its best, somebody’s side dish or dessert and nothing else. Most Ghanaians don’t eat chocolate, and can’t afford Milo or Ovaltine or Bournvita or any of these cocoa drinks and other products. And yet we spend a lot of time clearing our forests and burning the bush and destroying the ecology in order to produce cocoa to feed foreign countries. We borrow billions to destroy our environment to produce a commodity which we generally do not consume, and which outsiders price the way they want.
When you compute the real costs of production of cocoa in terms of the destruction of the virgin forests, the labor involved, the costs and efforts involved, the offices and officers involved, and the billions of loans involved, as opposed to the overall quantum of foreign exchange that accrues to the country, the net result may well be a heavy loss to the country. Strangely enough, none of our researchers have ever bothered to compute the real and actual costs of producing cocoa, whether in terms of the environment or its real impact on the economy. Everything is shrouded in the delusion of profit.
We are a people trained to follow tradition without thinking much about its import. That is why it is possible to be easily duped by those who dangle their dessert and breakfast beverages before us and set us running into the bush to produce the raw materials for them. If we were even capable of processing the bean into its various products and exporting same for foreign exchange, our efforts would have made some de minimus sense, although not entirely; for we have citizens to feed as our first priority. And until our people are well-fed, we cannot think too much about feeding foreigners.
Assuming that all our efforts were focused in producing cocoa for industries which we ourselves have set up to operate, and turning the beans into products which we can use, it will make some degree of commonsense. But here, we are shipping the raw cocoa beans in sacks to countries which will process them and ship their products back to us to purchase at far expensive prices than what we spent in producing the commodity! The net result may well be a gargantuan loss to the country. But we are too lazy to quantify our loss.
Since independence, this slavish labor has been the economic paradigm on which the country has naively depended to survive. And so if we can hardly survive today, it simply means that we have been brain-damaged into thinking that we are making profits from our main export commodities whereas all that we have been making are great losses.
The second issue with our export is with the extraction of minerals. Ghana depends on the export of minerals like gold, diamonds and bauxite for its foreign exchange. Apart from these minerals being robber materials, their extraction exerts profound impact on our environment. Our river bodies are polluted whilst some of them are forever dead. Our farmlands have been destroyed through legal or illegal mining. And yet it strikes us as a moment of pride that we are called the chief exporters of these raw minerals? I am making the same argument that if you add the huge environmental costs and labor and logistics, the costs to the nation and generations will be far higher than the foreign exchange accruing to the country today. So, we are engaged in a Sisyphean task of producing raw materials of no intrinsic value to us at a huge cost to us. And we are exporting these minerals to feed foreign industrial complexes while in reality, we are destroying the environment that constitutes our real heritage and means of survival. Furthermore, those to whom we export these commodities get to determine the price of these exports, while our most intelligent men sit around interdigitating their fingers in patent helplessness.
Again, it would have been some consolation if we were able to process these raw minerals into something of higher value. But we are not. The collectors’ economic structure that characterized primitive men still forms the basis of our economy, and we have not moved away from the primordial economic fundamentals that characterized the country since the time of our so-called independence.
Hopeless Economic Paradigm
This pattern of hopeless economic paradigm and its deleterious consequence equally apply to our production of timber, bauxite, oil, diamond, gold, foodstuff, and other cash crops. We engage in the huge destruction of our lands, environment and water bodies to produce raw materials to feed foreign industries. We in turn collect a meagre foreign exchange from foreigners who set the prices of our produce, then convert them into high value products of high prices which we in turn import to consume.
The result is that we always have a huge balance of trade deficit for which we must borrow heavily to finance. In spite of all our efforts, we don’t have enough to eat, enough clothes to wear, or enough housing for our people. We don’t have enough to provide sufficient educational infrastructure for our kids, nor enough funds to pay real wages to our people. We cannot provide adequate health care facilities and services for the people……We cannot wean ourselves from the vicious cycle of this slavish economic paradigm.
Our economic fundamentals are very weak indeed, and yet there are no serious discussions going on to alter this dilemma. We ignorantly feign surprise that no government, despite its goodwill and effort, is able to resolve the economic problems of the nation. And the people are in incessant agitation against their government for returning over and over again to the international monetary institutions for a bail-out.
The real answer to the dilemma is that we have an economy that is set up to fail. In spite of our decades of education, we have not produced the manpower skills that will enable us to process our cocoa, minerals, oil and foodstuffs into things of use for us. Our economy still remains agrarian while our educational system keeps on producing useless scientists who have no innovation, lazy engineers bereft of any creativity, thoughtless professors concocting phantom albeit pointless theories, technicians who have no real skills to do much, and a general population that is addicted to cell phones, computers, cars, air conditioners, television sets and other modern foreign goods none of which we can produce.
But even if we can just process a major quantum of whatever we produce and export in raw form, or even if we can process the abundant foodstuff left to rot in the bush during times of glut, if our education system could be oriented to answer to our basic life needs in these respects, we will begin to trudge the long pathway to true economic independence, which is also our political independence. Everything else is a false yardstick with which to measure our economic progress.
Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Esq., is a general legal practitioner in Austin, Texas. You can email him at [email protected]